A review of water issues in Maharashtra in 2013

2013 will remain a memorable year for Maharashtra’s water sector in many ways. The year saw several remarkable events, including country’s the biggest dam scam, a severe drought followed by floods, unprecedented intrastate water conflicts, court rulings in many hues, disaster management preparedness, push for urban and industrial water, etc. These issues have raised a question mark over institutions and governance mechanisms around water in the state. 2013 year has been a crucible of sorts through which the flaws and strengths of prevailing water management in Maharashtra can possibly be assessed. This is an attempt to give an overview of the important water happenings in Maharashtra during this year.

As the year 2012 ended, a White Paper on Irrigation Projects[i] was published by the Water Resources Department (WRD)  Government of Maharashtra after much pressure from civil society and media following colossal corruption charges[ii] against the WRD, and also against the NCP (Nationalist Congress Party) which held the portfolio for more than 11 years. This was looked at primarily as a political move in the ongoing tussle between NCP and Congress. Immediately after its publication, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar who had resigned over corruption charges in WRD was reinstated, without clearing his name. Modus operandi of the dam scam included pushing and initiating multiple projects, incomplete works, unbelievable and irregular cost escalations post tendering: some to the tune of 300%, favoring a cartel of contractors, poor quality of construction, absence of essential studies like water availability, detailed designs, DPRs, absence of canal networks, etc.  All this culminated into the fact that after spending Rs 70000 crores on irrigation projects in the past 10 years, the actual increase in irrigated area was extremely low.

Poor quality work at Gosekhurd Canals, Vidarbha Photo: Tehelka

Poor quality work at Gosekhurd Canals, Vidarbha Photo: Tehelka

The white paper provided a status report of projects under the WRD, the money spent, cost escalations and reasons, status of clearances, etc. As was predicted by many, the white paper has been a white wash. Not only has it presented false information about many projects, it has chosen not to report many controversial projects, and has not given any convincing reasons for delay and cost hikes. It nonchalantly reported illegalities like the on-going work without mandatory Forest and Environmental clearances.

One of the remarkable features of the dam scam and white paper has been that both issues were highlighted and pushed by the civil society and the media and also the CAG report.  Parts of the Dam scam was unearthed after organizations like IAC (India Against Corruption), Shramik Mukti Sangathan, SANDRP, etc. which worked on individual projects, mainly of the Konkan Irrigation Development Corporation (KIDC), strung together evidence to understand the scope and scale of the scam. One of the eloquent voices in this group has been that of Ms Anjali Damaniya, now with the AAP (Aam Aadmi Party), who joined the dots across Maharashtra and collected a body of evidence which irrefutably indicated the massive corruption and problems in the WRD. Equally remarkable was Chief Engineer Vijay Pandhare’s unshaking stand against the functioning of his own department. Not surprisingly, he was deemed as being mentally imbalanced by the Ministers.[iii]

In this entire episode, Chief Minister of Maharashtra and his government succumbed to the pressures of vested interests in the pro dam lobby, losing a golden opportunity to purge the irrigation sector of its collective corruption.

The White paper was followed by the constitution of a Special investigation Team (SIT) in December 2012 under the chairpersonship of Dr. Madhav Chitale, to investigate the corruption charges and to recommend further action to the WRD. Unfortunately, not only did the constitution of the SIT interfere with taking the WRD into the court, the members, including Chitale, are all known for toeing the government line. Chitale is also known for his pro-dam stance. On top of this, the SIT refused to accept any evidence about the scam from anyone outside the WRD. This move was criticized by many, after which the SIT started accepting such submissions. However, many view the constitution only for buying time and diluting and delaying actual strong action which is deserved by the WRD. [iv] This again shows how the Maharashtra government led by Chavan did not understand the issue and did not have the courage to provide transparent governance.

Massive Drought: Monsoon of 2012 had been poor in many regions across Maharashtra. End of 2012 itself saw severe water stress in many regions and increasing conflicts. The situation needed quick appraisal and strong, urgent measures. But the MWRRA (Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority), expressly constituted in 2005 to provide equitable water distribution in the state was busy holding meetings about water rates.[v] By December 2012 live storages of many projects, including Ujani, touched zero. Months that followed saw one of the most severe droughts experienced by Maharashtra. This was dubbed as a drought worse that 1972 by political leaders, to underline the “natural disaster” and escape responsibility. However, SANDRP’s analysis proved that rainfall in 2012 had been more than that of 1972 in almost all of the 17worse drought-affected districts in Maharashtra. This proved that 40 years after 1972 and after spending thousands of crores on dams and institutions, the impact of a drought less severe than that of 1972 was more severe, highlighting the mismanagement of water on a large scale.[vi]

Water released from Bhama Askhed Dam to downstream Ujani, as per High Court orders. Photo: SANDRP

Water released from Bhama Askhed Dam to downstream Ujani, as per High Court orders. Photo: SANDRP

Sugarcane concentrated in the worst drought hit regions There were many reasons behind this situation, including inequitable water allocation, pollution, dam scam, etc. One of the major culprits was wide spread cultivation of water intensive sugarcane, promoted by the politicians and the government. The water use efficiency of Maharashtra’s cane farming is dismally low, as compared to other states like Uttar Pradesh.[vii] Solapur region, worse hit by drought has the maximum concentration of sugar factories (28) and maximum area under sugarcane.[viii] It also includes Union Agricultural Minister’s (Shri Sharad Pawar) constituency of Madha. Water required for cultivating sugarcane on 155 864 ha area under sugarcane in Solapur works out to be 2630 Million Cubic Meters (MCM). This is 1.73 times the live storage capacity of Ujani Dam (Live Storage: 1517 MCM), the largest reservoir in Bhima basin and third largest reservoir of Maharashtra.[ix] All this cane was crushed when drought was at its worst. In regions like Osmanabad, all of the cane over 50,000 ha was crushed when all of the dams in the region were at dead storage! The same drought-hit region was also going to host several new (mostly private) sugar factories. SANDRP analysed the impact of sugarcane on drought and highlighted this at multiple fora[x]. Some, like Rural Minister Dhobale, promised that new factories will not come up in drought regions. But this has not been implemented.

Most of the water of Ujani Dam in Solapur was diverted for sugarcane, without any checks from anyone. As it reached dead storage, drinking water to villages was affected. The High Court, while hearing a case filed by Prabhakar Deshmukh of Solapur ordered in April 2013 that dams upstream Ujani should release water immediately for the downstream Ujani Dam and other areas. The rationale behind water releases to Ujani has been questioned. Importantly, even in the village of Prabhakar Deshmukh, sugar industries continued to crush cane using huge quantity of water every day, even when he was on fast.[xi] The government has been completely ineffective in dealing with this issue.

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Marathwada was most severely hit by drought and was also at the receiving end of a complex upstream-downstream water conflict. After commissioning the massive Jayakwadi Dam near Aurangabad in this region, several (more than 11) dams have been built in the upstream Godavari Basin in Nashik and Ahmednagar Districts. These dams have reduced the water flow into Jayakwadi.[xii] In keeping with Section 11 and 12 of MWRRA, All dams within a basin should have approximately same percentage of water in October each year. However, in Godavari, upstream dams held upto 90% water, even when Jayakwadi was at Dead storage. Multiple cases were filed in Aurangabad bench of High Court which twice ordered release of water from upstream dams. How much water of it actually reached Jayakwadi remains an unanswered question.

Thus the year also saw complete ineffectiveness of MWRRA as an institution. It was shamed by the High Court. More than 13 posts, including the chairperson and expert members were not filled for several years and the authority was all together nonfunctional. Rules of the Act were not made 8 years after formulating the act. They were hastily made after HC orders and very significantly, tried to delete the same clauses which were significant for equitable water distribution. This again was and is being contested by civil society, especially in Marathwada. Now, the WRD has appointed a committee under the chairpersonship of Mr. Mendhegiri, Director WALMI, specifically tasked with making MWRRA “practicable”.  Marathwada groups see this as a clear threat to Jayakwadi and have written to the government as well as Mendhegiri Committee. The road ahead seems long.[xiii]

Drought of 2013 was not without bright sparks, though. Collectors from places like Beed, Jalna and Osmanabad took some strong stands. Notable amongst these was Dr. Nagargoze from Osmanabad. Many of their recommendations were however ignored. Civil society groups became active and vocal about equitable water management. Many villages joined initiated desilting tanks and weirs. Several new watershed structures were erected. All this led to considerable storage in 2013 monsoons.

However, quick fix methods like Shirapur pattern which entail deepening and widening of streams and rivulets, was pushed indiscriminately for all, as was string of cement nallah bunds, but this again was contested for its impacts on groundwater and environment. It is now reported that Government has applied for a Rs 60,000 crores loan for drought proofing works, with support from the World Bank. Before such big ticket expenses, we need to check what happened to the thousands of crores spent on watershed management and specifically minor irrigation projects? Large number of minor irrigation projects are dysfunctional and poorly maintained, like their big counterparts. People’s participation in management is the key, but is entirely absent.[xiv] The year 2013 also saw tragic death of five engineers of the WRD, while inspecting a flawed minor irrigation project, which caved in during the inspection.

Unviable LIS also violate laws At the same time, many Lift Irrigation Schemes (LIS) of Maharashtra applied for TOR clearance or Environmental clearances with the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Central Government. SANDRP was following this closely and we were shocked to find that many projects which applied for clearances were already underway, some were nearly finished. All such work before clearance is in complete violation of the Environmental Protection Act 1986 and EIA Notification Sept 2006. All of these projects: Lower Dnyan Ganga, Ar kacheri and Alewadi nalla, Shirpaur Lift Irrigation Scheme and Krishna Marathwada Lift Irrigation scheme were rejected clearance by the MoEF’s Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects after SANDRP wrote to the EAC about the violations. Though White paper stated Forest and Environmental clearances as hurdles to its work, we see that projects do not wait for these processes and WRD pushes on with illegal works.

2013 Monsoon 2013 monsoon (June-Sept) has been satisfactory for most of the state: Vidarbha got 1360.4 mm (43% above average) rainfall, Madhya Maharashtra got 880.1 mm (21% above average) rainfall, Konkan got 3502.6 mm (20% above average) rainfall and Marathawada got 747.3 mm (9% above average) rainfall. Thus Vidarbha, already stressed by water diversions for thermal power plants and farmers plight, faced severe floods this year. Standing crops of cotton and soyabean were destroyed and the impacts of soil erosion continue till date. Same is the case with Dhule and Jalgaon districts. Operation of Dams has been held responsible for compounding the flood losses in places like Wardha and Chandrapur. Compensation announced to the farmers is meager, with some receiving single digit checks.

The Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal announced its final verdict in November 2013, disallowing Maharashtra to make any further interbasin transfers, especially through the Krishna Marathwada Lift Irrigation project. The work on this project is already progressed to considerable extent. Mostly, this again will be money down the drain. The project also applied for environment clearance, but was denied that following SANDRP submission that work has already progressed before the clearance.

Western Ghats 2013 also saw a huge upheaval and public discourse surrounding the Western Ghats, following the Western Ghats Expert Ecology Panel (WGEEP) Report by Prof. Madhav Gadgil and the problematic Kasturirangan Committee report, mainly to dilute WGEEP recommendations[xv]. The affidavit submitted by Principal Secretary Maharashtra on the WGEEP report is extremely flawed. Even when SANDRP and other organizations highlighted the gross violations in KIDC irrigation projects, the Forest and Irrigation department continued to ignore that[xvi]. The affidavit[xvii] says that interbasin water transfers in Western Ghats are necessary in Maharashtra for the water security of the drought affected region in the Deccan plateau, but ironically, all the current water transfers of more than 2000 MCM annually though Koyana HEP and TATA HEPs is transferring water FROM this very drought hit region TO the water surplus region of Konkan And this was not checked even when the 2012-13 drought was at its peak and organizations like SANDRP raised this issue during the drought.[xviii]

Bhivpuri

The dithering ways of Congress government at the centre and state are epitomsed in a recent event of appointing Veerapa Moily, a completely unsuitable candidate[xix], as the Union Environment Minister. One of the first persons Mr. Moily met after becoming the Minister of Environment was Mr. Prithviraj Chavan, along with Kerala CM, with the CMs advocating putting a hold on the ESAs in Western Ghats recommended by the Kasturirangan committee and Mr. Moily promptly obliging. In earlier meetings, which I attended, Mr. Chavan intentionally depicted WGEEP report in incorrect light. This may have something to do with entrenched interests another congress MLA, Narayan Rane, in mining and destructive activities in the Western Ghats of Maharashtra.

Looking at Rahul Gandhi’s absolutely incorrect depiction of Environment and Environmental clearances as hurdles at the FICCI meet, it looks like the congress establishment has just not got the message from the AAP episode in Delhi. People have indicated that they want clean, participatory and responsive governance and not just growth at any cost. The establishment seems to have no clue about the dependence of the poor on the environmental resources.

Dams around Mumbai, in the Western Ghats 2013 saw frenzied activity by the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) and Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) to push more and more drinking water supply dams in the tribal areas of Western Ghats MMR region. Around 12 dams are now in various stages of completion, construction and planning for the MMR Urban areas. They will together affect more than 100,000 tribals and submerge more than 22,000 hectares of land including over 7000 hectares of forests and protected areas. Looking at options that Mumbai has and its current water management, these dams are totally unjustified. Some dams like Kalu started even before statutory Forest clearance. Balganga dam is 90% complete without land acquisition! In Suseri Dam, the contractor secured permission for a farm house and built a site office instead. SANDRP and other organizations held a workshop focusing on these issues in Mumbai on the 18th December 2013.[xx]Here too, the fight for sustainable and equitable water management looks tough as the power equation is skewed in favour of the urban areas.

Forests in Tansa Wildlife Sanctuary. 750 hectares of these forests will be submerged for the Gargai Dam. Photo: SANDRP

Forests in Tansa Wildlife Sanctuary. 750 hectares of these forests will be submerged for the Gargai Dam. Photo: SANDRP

Significantly, it was at Mr. Chavan’s request letter to Union Environment Minister that Kalu Dam was considered again by the Forest Advisory Committee, MoEF in April 2013 and was given in-principle clearance a month later, after being categorically rejected just one year back. The dam will submerge 1000 hectares of forests in Western Ghats and will affect at least 18000 tribals. Mr. Chavan, in one of his meetings, had said that no project will go ahead without assessing its impact on the environment. I had then publicly reminded him there that no assessment has taken place for Kalu and he himself is pushing it without assessment.

The urban water scenario in Maharashtra is seriously problematic at the moment. Many urban areas are in a hurry to build new dams as the only option to their increasing water supply, but are not ready to harvest rain, or to treat and reuse any sewage they generate or to revive their rivers and other local water sources or achieve any participatory governance. Nashik, which receives additional funds from the National River Conservation Directorate for cleaning up Godavari is converting the river into a drain, while hankering for a new dam called Kikvi. SANDRP raised objections about this proposal and it is yet to receive final Forest Clearance from the MoEF.[xxi] Godavari Gatarikaran Virodhi manch, a civil society group in Nashik has filed 3 petitions against the Municipal Corporation and MIDC for polluting Godavari. The corporation is actually releasing untreated sewage in the river, just a few hundred meters upstream the holy Ramkund in which devotees take a dip and consume teerth, especially during Kumbh Mela.

All in all, 2013 exposed the gaping holes in Maharashtra’s water governance. Events which happened this year are not one-off accidents but underline systemic flaws. Some of the main factors include blind push for big dams, no post facto analysis of existing projects, absence of equitable water distribution, exclusion of communities in decision making and management, absence of transparency and accountability in management and corruption and arrogance linked to powerful vested interests.

As the year 2013 closes, Chief Minister, Union Agriculture Minister and all the dignitaries so very linked with sugar sector again came together at the Vasantdada Sugar Institute’s Annual General Meeting in December 2013. The same leaders had met at the same forum in March 2013 in the middle of the drought, when the Union Agriculture Minister had said that from next year flow irrigation to sugarcane will be stopped and drip will be made compulsory.[xxii]  But just after 9 months from the “worse drought in 40 years”, these promises seem to have been forgotten. The same Minister did not even mention drip in his December 2013 address.

Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, Deputy CM Ajit Pawar at the award presentation ceremony at the 37th Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Vasantdada Sugar Institute (VSI) at Manjri in Pune, Maharashtra. Photo: ePrahaar

Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, Deputy CM Ajit Pawar at the award presentation ceremony at the 37th Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Vasantdada Sugar Institute (VSI) at Manjri in Pune, Maharashtra. Photo: ePrahaar

In conclusion 2013 ends in India on a historical note, with the Aam Admi Party taking over the reins of the government in Delhi, riding to power on the promise of clean, corruption free, pro-people and hence pro-environment governance. The key operative term here is transparent and democratic governance.

In Maharashtra, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan assumed office on a similar promise of clean governance, but the CM and his government has completely lost this claim. It was shocking to see that the Chavan government rejected the Adarsh Scam report hat indicting the ruling Cong and NCP leaders, highlighting the misguided, dishonest and weak governance in the State. Political opposition has also completely failed here. In the dam scam or other episodes described above, neither the BJP, nor the Shiv Sena nor any other party could play an effective pro-people role.

Thus, as far as current political set up in the state is concerned, the writing is clearly on the wall. Rural poor who do not receive irrigation, farmers whose water is stolen by industries, urban poor and the middle class who do not get assured water despite the city spending thousands of crores on water supply projects, rivers which are drying up, they all need alternatives and pro people governance.

Let us hope and work to ensure that 2014 will be a different year. It is a tough road ahead.

Parineeta Dandekar (parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com) ,

with inputs from Himanshu Thakkar (ht.sandrp@gmail.com)

END NOTES:


2 Comments on “A review of water issues in Maharashtra in 2013

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